Archive for June 22nd, 2009

22
Jun
09

MCOT News: A Swan Song

MCOT logo

We need you. Hell, I need you. I’m a mess without you. I miss you so damn much. I miss being with you, I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss your scent; I miss your musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think you and me should get an apartment together.

This quote from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy pretty much sums up my emotions right now.

This Monday’s broadcast will be my last time anchoring MCOT News on Channel 9.  I sense the following responses:

  1. NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  You can’t do this, I watch it all the time!  Why??  WHY???  CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera ain’t got shit on you guys!
  2. (glassy-eyed stare, a nine-months pregnant pause) Woah.  That’s…cool?

For the last two years, I have had the privilege of presenting late-night English language news on MCOT, channel 9.  Almost thirty years of experience reading out loud in English, I was actually getting paid to do something I do almost every day on the porcelain throne.

Pre-recorded about two hours ahead of time, I often make it back home in time to watch it, as it airs a bit after midnight*.  My wife, undoubtedly my biggest fan, insisted we watch it together.  Though she usually falls asleep, and unless there are graphics associated with a news item I am interested in (“Hemlines of Thai university co-eds reach new heights”), I’ll covertly change the channel to watch The Sopranos on HBO.

In honor of MCOT Channel 9 for giving me the opportunity to live the dream, here are nine memories I take with me…

1.  My first broadcast, where I mangled a bunch of names of important Thai officials.  I remember coming back into the control room and seeing the News Director P’A-Jirayu trying to smile as she offered words of encouragement.  I didn’t get it perfect right away, but I kept practicing and gaining more comfort with these names (like Satit Wongnongtoey, Arisman Pongruengrong, Veera Musikapong, etc.) .  Recently, I had to say five names of UDD protest leaders.  Afterward, no one said anything, it was business as usual.  But as I left the office, I allowed myself a little fist pump.

2.  Getting on a motorcycle taxi near Radio Thailand, the driver asked if I read the news.  Surprised, I told him yes.   He tells me he likes to listen to me read, because he feels like it helps him with his English.  A clever way to get an extra tip from me?  Maybe.  But I think he earned it.

3.  Arriving at the studio one evening, there was a crowd of teenage girls, cordoned off the door.  When I walked up the stairs, I heard some started screaming before abruptly dying down, like a false alarm at a surprise birthday party.   I walked into the building unmolested, to my slight disappointment.  I found out later they were all there to greet a Korean pop star who was giving a radio interview upstairs at Seed 97.5.  I couldn’t help but recall reading about when legendary rocker Robert Plant anonymously walked past a bunch of delirious teenage girls waiting for the Backstreet Boys, and not one of them were interested in some red snapper.

4.  Life imitates art.  Covering the birth of a panda, I let myself slip into Ron Burgundy mode of fake newscaster enthusiasm.  That was the only time I almost laughed out loud during a broadcast.

5. For a while I was the only male announcer on MCOT News.  On days I came in to anchor, I would often record voiceovers for features that would air on days someone else was reading. Up until just last year, we were still recording them on Betamax video cassette tapes in a musty closet.  Now we use computers, but I still miss handling the tapes, with voiceover scripts fastened to them by a rubber band.

6.   One of my colleagues found an entry on Pantip, a Thai webboard, discussing my work on MCOT News.  Aside from a few compliments, there was an ongoing debate as to whether I was gay.  Apparently a few netizens are convinced I am 100% gay, my marriage and three children being an elaborate sham.  I wanted to respond “Look sweetie, just because I have to wear make-up for my job, that doesn’t mean I am, girlfriend.  Snap!”…but ultimately felt it would be counterproductive.

7.  The MCOT news team goes to Samut Songkram province to record a feature.   They meet an old woman of very modest means who works as a farmer, who says she watches me all the time.  She doesn’t understand what I am saying, she just likes listening to me talk in English.  Before I start puffing my chest out in pride, my producer, Pink, explained that Channel 9 is the only channel she can watch clearly at her house.

8.  Calling my parents in the States and letting them know I will be reading the news that night.  They have satellite and watch whenever they can over there.  You can watch the latest episode at enews.mcot.net until Tuesday

9. The Mynamar uprising, Cyclone Nargis, earthquakes and Olympics in China, the funeral of the late Princess Kalyani Wattana, PAD protests take over Suvarnabhumi airport, the world financial crisis, Bloody Songkran, swine flu, the crackdown in Iran.  It was a fringe benefit that work meant nursing a curiosity of what was going on in the Thailand and around the world.

I was ever any good, it was only because I made a point to remember something crucial:

“It’s not about you, dumbass.”

There’s no room for ego here, it’s all about the news.  People don’t come on here to see me.  The audience wants to know about what is going on in the world.   I don’t make commentary, just read and don’t make any goshdarned mistakes.  I mutter all this to myself as the cameraman started the countdown, “Five, four…”

(Downing the last of my scotch and soda and stubbing out an unfiltered Lucky Strike…)

“three, two…”

(Clearing my throat, a quick smoothing out of my luxuriant moustache, as the cameraman points to me)

Sawasdee Krub, thank you for joining us with MCOT News, I’m Ron Burgun…oops.

I hear the program director sigh into my earpiece.  Okay, let’s do it again.   Good thing we are not broadcasting live.

Now even though I hardly ever see the other newscasters I’m proud to be associated with them, because everyone is so professional and contributed to the great reputation of the program.  I know I will see them all again around the way.

If you ask me why we are being cancelled, I don’t have a firm answer.  Perhaps the powers-that-be at MCOT did not see the point in presenting English news on a channel where the content was all Thai language.  Or maybe we were like Strangers with Candy, Joy Division, and the electric cars…just a little bit ahead of its time.

It has been a fun ride, enjoy the rest of the week’s broadcasts.  There is still English language news on Channel 11 with Newsline and cable channel TNN, as well as CNN, BBC, and Fox News.  And who knows, maybe we’ll be back in another form?  Bigger and better than ever!  Until then, I might have to temporarily change this blog name to Jack of Some Media.

As an homage to Anchorman, I usually sign off with “Thanks for stopping by**.”  We’ll see if I can sneak in something special for the last broadcast.

Thank you to everyone for watching.  And in the words of the real Anchorman Walter Cronkite…

“And that’s the way it is.”

Sawasdee,

Jack

*One reason I think it might have been hard to build even more loyal viewing audience than the channel-surfing night owl is that there was not set start time.  People would ask what time to watch, I told them after midnight.  It could have been 12:03 am, or 12:18.  We were shoehorned into a spot immediately after a live variety show called Ta Sawang, right before a Thai language program, the Thai version of Top Gear or some golf instructional show.

** When I do the midday news on MET 107, it is live so I sign off with “Stay classy, Bangkok.”  Doing MCOT News has given me the confidence to read live on the radio, as well as exposure and opportunities to do live emcee jobs.




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